Journey through Penang in Search of the Blue Dragon

Johnnie Walker Blue Label looks to the ‘Pearl of the Orient’ for the Chinese New Year edition.

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label is renowned for its rarity, for only one out of every thousand casks of Scottish scotch whiskies are of sufficient character to deserve the Blue Label blend. Equally precious is the Chinese diaspora in Malaysia, especially in the state of Penang, where the community have retained yet enriched much of the fundamental culture.

So, when the Blue Label and rich Chinese culture come together with Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic’s long-lasting love affair with Penang to celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year, the result, as expected, is nothing less than magical.

In order to play witness to history, a select group of connoisseurs, including Uppre, were chosen to be a part of a whimsical journey in the ‘Pearl of the Orient,’ and had the opportunity not only to delve deeper into the island’s unique Chinese culture but also discover the imaginative blue dragon befittingly crafted by artist extraordinaire Ernest Zacharevic solely for the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Chinese New Year limited edition bottle.

I am not one for suspense and I would assume neither are you, what with the mouse wheel right there at your disposal. So, let’s start with the real reason we’re here, the limited edition bottle. Ernest’s artwork on the new release takes the form of the classic Chinese dragon dance with a modern, playful twist, depicting a blue dragon that moves gracefully in the mist as it is controlled by younger dancers, performing to bring it to life against the backdrop of historical and cultural Penang landmarks.

The unveiling of the one-of-a-kind design was held at the Macalister Mansion, a 100-year-old colonial estate in Penang, paying homage to the colonial past of the nation in tandem with Scotland’s own history of exceptional blended whiskies.

Now, let’s rewind it back to the beginning, to the oriental journey filled with a series of unique experiences as we immersed in the culture and heritage of Penang’s architecture, local delicacies, art and the community.

Our excursion began with a local delicacy, the char kuey teow, to symbolise the notions of craftsmanship and rarity the dish shares with Johnnie Walker. We stopped at Ah Leng Char Kuey Teow, one of Penang’s most famous stalls which have been around for more than 30 years. There, we had the privilege of meeting Teoh Yeong Hee, who is the successor of the stall which was established by his father, Teoh Koon Leng back in the 1970s.

Mr. Teoh Yeong Hee, the current owner of the famous Ah Leng Char Kuey Teow stall.

Next, we took a trip down memory lane as we embarked on a trishaw journey to visit some of the famous murals in Georgetown. The trishaw which was evolved from the rickshaw, a man-powered carriage, was fitting for the journey as it was also a tribute to the Chinese community in Penang tracing back to decades ago when they started working as riders.

Murals in Penang are by now synonymous with the name Ernest Zacharevic and the various stops we made at his mural all around the town served as a prelude to the masterpiece that was awaiting us at Macalister Mansion that evening. The artist’s magical works truly capture the poignant every day moments in our lives, while still paying tribute to the rich local culture that he is enamoured with.

The participants of the oriental journey in front of the famed “The Awaiting Trishaw and Paddler” mural by Ernest Zacharevic.

As we progressed through the oriental journey in Georgetown, we were also treated to Penang’s popular dessert, the cendol. One of the most famous cendol stalls in Georgetown was started 80 years ago by Tan Teik Fuang and today is run by his 6th son Tan Chong Kim, who brought the business to the next level of progress by expanding the family business out of Penang, persevering through adversaries and embodying the spirit of Johnnie Walker’s Keep Walking brand.

Soon after the wonderful dessert, we freshened up for the highlight of the entire journey – the unveiling of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Chinese New Year limited edition bottle. As we sat down for dinner at the mansion, Jeremy Lee, brand ambassador of Johnnie Walker Malaysia, took us through a whisky tasting session on how to savour every single drop of the carefully crafted blend as we identified its rich fruit flavours, old oak woody notes, aromatic spices, and lingering smoky finish.

The Johnnie Walker Blue Label tasting session with Jeremy Lee, the brand ambassador of Johnnie Walker Malaysia.

Blended with whiskies from distilleries that are no longer in operation, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a testament of rarity and excellence strived by Alexander Walker when he drew inspiration from all four corners of Scotland and created the original ‘Old Highland Whisky’ blend back in 1867.

Master Wong, the renowned calligrapher from Penang, teaching basic calligraphy to dinner guests.

Also present was renowned calligrapher from Penang, Master Wong, who was also featured in one of Ernest’s famous murals in Georgetown. He guided us through the traditional art of Chinese calligraphy as we learned and wrote some auspicious Chinese characters including 春 (spring), 福 (prosperity), 财 (wealth), 满 (abundance), 喜 (happiness) and 富 (fortune).

The immersive oriental journey with Johnnie Walker Blue Label specially curated for Chinese New Year 2017 ended on a good note at Mish Mash, Penang’s must-visit bistro that you can read more about here.

The partnership with Ernest Zacharevic is a one-off collaboration and there are only less than 4,000 bottles of the Chinese New Year edition made available for the local market. Celebrate the 2017 Chinese New Year responsibly with your friends and family with Johnnie Walker Blue Label’s latest collector’s edition that is available for purchase at selected distributors only.

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Macalister mansion bathed in blue for the unforgettable launch.
Vimal Palasekaran

Vimal Palasekaran

Loud laugher. TV buff. Hispanophone.
Vimal Palasekaran

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